The 9/50 Summit at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center
The 9/50 Summit, held at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in partnership with Elsewhere and Seed Space, defined itself in exact geographic terms. In the organizer’s words, “9/50 refers to the fact that nine of the fifty United States will be represented, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.” The nine are defined in terms of the fifty, a helpful filter to examine what place means for working artists and arts organizers. 9/50 was a fractional presentation: nine states of fifty, eighteen organizations out of hundreds, and innumerable conflicting opinions on what regionalism means, if anything, for an artist in Atlanta, in Mississippi, in Miami. As described in the “Does Regionalism Exist?” panel by Chad Alligood, Associate Curator at Crystal Bridges, regionalism in the arts is an acute term whose definition most often stands in for the parochial. In this view, as soon as we discuss art in terms of regionalism, we are most often bisecting it from national and international relevance. This region-specific summit paradoxically (and productively) served to undermine this tendency by showcasing the best of what the region offers, featuring organizations of far-reaching influence working within a particular geographic grid. The format was particularly appropriate in a setting like the Southeast, which is often considered culturally, politically, physically, and psychically remote. Adopting a mini art fair format with a few programmatic elements, the summit covered a lot of terrain in a condensed weekend. By far the most common approach was to consider the platform to present an overview of the participating organizations as a whole rather than to present an exhibition or feature invididual artists. Press Street and Flux Projects mirrored one another’s booths across the room with hundreds of 4×6’s surveying their work. Press Street in particular used the sociality of the event to its benefit by carving out a living room in their space, hinting at its expansive and welcoming programming in New Orleans. Elsewhere’s idiosyncratic and time-dense work translated surprisingly well to the ACAC galleries as they chose to bring their methodology, not just their archive to the summit. Pelican Bomb and Seed Space highlighted their CSA programs and Dust to Digital and Paradise of Bachelors showcased their idiosyncratic record label as cultural institution artifacts. Several booths did feature artists and mini-exhibitions beyond their archives. Locust Projects’ fresh editions and ephemera, Good Weather’s compact grouping of work by Terry Conrad, Tony Garbarini, Talon Gustafson, Mary Laube, and Harlan Mack and Dimensions Variable’s presentation of Audrey Hynes’s work could have each translated as well at NADA as 9/50. The inclusion of publications such as Art Papers, Ain’t Bad Magazine and Burnaway, as well as diverse generational and programmatic inclusions such as the almost two decades-old Space One Eleven in Birmingham and the Cress Gallery of Art also helped lend the event a feeling of diversity and breadth needed for this type of survey. The summit was a first attempt to bring together arts organizers, publishers and presenters from throughout the region into dialogue to conceptualize how these projects engage and sustain one another. These initiatives have been emerging around the country, from Hand in Glove’s two previous iterations to Common Practice in New York and a comparison with almost any region in the US would produce a comparable crop of artist-led projects with the inevitable questions of isolation, sustainability and financial burdens. The dominant concerns would have been the same in the Mid, North or Southwest. Regionalism here has nothing to do with parochialism, but ability to affordably gather. As Art Papers’ Victoria Camblin stated, the international is our horizon, but a day’s drive is still easier than a $2,000 flight to Dubai, and resources still at times circulate person to person, state to state. A private roundtable held on the final day of the summit opened up a second, more targeted terrain as the leaders of the eighteen participating organizations gathered to discuss founder’s syndrome, financial models and shop talk-like structuring boards and keeping the books. Regionalism in this sense takes on a different form. The distance between geographies collapses as we realize the struggles are the same and the possibilities are each unique but equal. Viewing the event as a summit – a meeting of leaders – these background gatherings brought a focus to the proceedings not completely present during the event’s open hours. Looking around the room was tantamount to taking stock of who is still standing and what sustainability looks like in the Southeast. As artist-led spaces continue to face these questions mostly alone with guidance only available several cities or states away, this room and reason to gather is likely to be the lasting value of the summit.
Images courtesy of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.